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NBA leads league in minority coaching hires

The NBA informed teams that it is eyeing May 8 as a potential date for teams to reopen practice facilities on a limited basis.
Bart Young
NBAE via Getty Images
The NBA informed teams that it is eyeing May 8 as a potential date for teams to reopen practice facilities on a limited basis.

Last week, the Los Angeles Lakers hired a new head coach, a former NBA player named Darvin Ham, who had a rather non-descript eight year playing career, before becoming an assistant coach.

Ham’s hiring, in and of itself, isn’t that noteworthy, since the immutable law of sports is that coaches and managers are hired to be fired.

Ham takes the job two years after his immediate predecessor, Frank Vogel, led Los Angeles to the championship, the 18th in the team’s history, albeit in the COVID-enforced bubble.

He’s the seventh man to coach the Lakers, arguably the glamour franchise of the league, since Phil Jackson left 11 years ago, so the odds suggest that Darvin Ham probably should rent a house in Los Angeles, not buy.

That said, Ham’s succession to the throne in Laker Land actually brings some larger significance beyond Southern California, as he is now the 15th Black current head coach in the NBA. That there are 30 teams in the league means that half of the NBA franchises have a Black man at the helm. And that is a big deal.

Just look around at the rest of big time professional men’s sports in this country.

There’s baseball, which makes an enormous fuss each April 15 over Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier 75 years ago.

The sport takes Robinson’s jersey number 42 out of storage and sticks its collective chest out as each player in the game gets to wear the number for that day, to show its corporate commitment to racial equality. At what would be his farewell public appearance, Robinson chided baseball during the 1972 World Series to take steps to get a Black man into the dugout as manager, 25 years after his breakthrough.

Robinson died nine days after his admonition. It’s 50 years later, and there are only two Black managers in the game, Houston’s Dusty Baker and Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That’s in keeping with the 7.2 percent participation rate of Black players, the lowest in more than 30 years.

And then there’s football. The NFL’s commissioner, Smilin’ Roger Goodell oversees a league that adorns its stadiums and fields with expressions of assistance towards civil rights and humanitarian causes.

Meanwhile, its owners, Goodell’s bosses, have shunned Colin Kaepernick from the game for six years all for the crime of supporting the notion that police shouldn’t rough up people of color. And all the while, only three of 32 NFL coaches are Black, while 71 percent of the league’s players are Black.

The NBA, while better than the NFL or Major League Baseball, isn’t perfect. In the 55 years since Bill Russell became the first Black coach, only one of three coaches since have been Black.

And when Ham is inevitably fired or moves on, it will be interesting to see if he gets a second chance someplace else and breaks the cycle of one job and done for Black coaches.

But it’s numbers that matter most in sports, and the numbers suggest a brighter future for Darvin Ham and other Black coaches in the NBA than any other league.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.